Final Budget Likely To Be Strong On Education Reform, Key Legislator Says
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
May 29, 2013
In April, it appeared that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's sweeping education reforms — approved last year by the legislature — were imperiled, but Wednesday, a key legislative leader said the reforms are out of danger.
The General Assembly's appropriations committee slashed key elements of the school improvement efforts last month proposing about $47 million in cuts to certain reform programs including a plan to turn around low-performing schools and the state's new teacher and principal evaluation program.
But on Wednesday, Sen. Toni Harp, co-chairwoman of appropriations and a Democrat from New Haven, said of the cuts: "Ultimately, most of the dollars will be restored. … Over the weeks of negotiating with the governor's budget office, we have pretty much put all of it back."
Harp said the cuts were originally made because "given the fact that we're not raising taxes, that revenues are under-performing … we really didn't think we ought to be engaging in new programming. We did some, but not all that the governor requested."
Legislators are still deep in negotiation on the final budget, which is expected to be released later this week, but Harp said she expects that when it is completed, "We'll probably have one of the most aggressive educational reform initiatives in the country."
Not only will the new budget restore cuts proposed for the governor's reform package, Harp said, but it will include funding for programs that the governor had eliminated or reduced.
She said those programs include funding for after-school programs, for a "Parent University," for science for elementary school children in troubled school districts, and for school-based health centers and other "wrap-around" services for students.
Harp said those were elements that legislators thought the governor had agreed to include and that legislators felt were important. Those programs, she said, "were put back in our budget and they are going to stay in our budget. They are really important, particularly for what we call the reform districts, which are the 10 districts most in need."
Estimates on how much funding would be invested in those programs were unavailable Wednesday.
Harp's comments were in line with what other legislators and education advocates said they had been hearing about the budget — and with a statement released by the governor's office Wednesday night: "The governor has been clear for months that education is a top priority. As far as specifics, negotiations are ongoing and we're not going to comment. That said, Senator Harp is correct that our education reforms will continue to be aggressive and it remains our goal to be a national leader in this regard."
State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said: "We're very optimistic. All the signs are positive, but having said that, until the budget is issued we won't know for sure."
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, who is co-chairman of the legislature's education committee, said, "Everything I'm hearing would indicate that this is going to be a good budget for education reform and education more broadly."
Fleischmann said the budget that came out of appropriations "had me very uncomfortable and had a lot of folks in the chamber and in the administration uncomfortable… I have a sense that a lot of those dollars were restored. I'll know for sure when the [Office of Fiscal Analysis] is given permission to give the subcommittee chairs our spreadsheets."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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